Irina Werning receives 44th Annual W. Eugene Smith Grant in Humanistic Photography

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The W. Eugene Smith Memorial Fund announced Irina Werning (Argentina) is the recipient of this year’s $30,000 W. Eugene Smith Grant in Humanistic Photography for her project, Las Pelilargas. Since 2006, Werning has been seeking and photographing women in Argentina with long hair, a style that is influenced by a blend of South American cultures and indigenous traditions.

Now in its 44th year, the W. Eugene Smith Grant will help Werning complete the final chapter of her long-term project and allow her to return to the towns where it all began. There she will document the poignant impact of globalization on local traditions while celebrating the resilience and beauty of their heritage. Werning’s project was selected from more than 448 entries – the most in the grant’s history, representing 68 countries. Since the Smith Fund’s inception in 1979, it has awarded more than $1.3 million to photographers whose past work and proposed projects follow in the tradition of W. Eugene Smith’s career as a photographic essayist.

“We continue to be impressed and amazed at the quality of entries we receive each year, and the incredibly diverse stories photographers are sharing with the world,” said Scott Thode, president of the W. Eugene Smith Memorial Fund. “The Smith Fund is excited for all of this year’s grant recipients and grateful to our judges who meticulously reviewed 448 entries, the most received in the grant’s history. We are also grateful to our supporters, including The Leonian Foundation, without whom these annual grants in documentary photography simply wouldn’t be possible,” Mr. Thode added.

Irina Werning Receives $30,000 Eugene Smith Photography Grant

“News that I had received this year’s W. Eugene Smith Grant arrived just when I was about to conclude this personal project due to a lack of funds!” exclaimed Werning. “I believe that photography has a responsibility to document conflict but also to capture the hope and beauty within humanity. The grant now gives me the opportunity to go deeper into the story and address some of the questions that emerged throughout this 17-year journey,” she continued. “I am so grateful for this honor.”

Eugene Smith Fellowship and Leonian Finalist Grant

Thanks to the increased support of The Phillip and Edith Leonian Foundation, the Eugene Smith Fund has been able to increase its Fellowship grant to $10,000, and add a Finalist Award, which provides $5,000 to a photographer whose entry is deemed by the judges to need special recognition.

Myriam Boulos (Lebanon) is this year’s recipient of the $10,000 Smith Fund Fellowship for her project, “Sexual Fantasies,” which documents the sexual fantasies of women and people socialized as women in Lebanon and the region. “At a moment in history where truth is being manipulated, silenced, and oppressed, it is particularly meaningful for me to receive the Eugene Smith Fellowship,” Boulos explained. “This documentation challenges the conventional — colonial and patriarchal – ways of representing our region and bodies with photography by shifting the narrative from our pain and suffering which have been normalized, to our desires and resistance. In this collaborative work, we are the ones talking about our bodies, owning them, and taking back what belongs to us.”

The judges also presented the $5,000 Finalist Award to Fabian Ritter (Ukraine) for “Youth of Ukraine,” which takes an intimate look at young Ukrainians and shares their everyday lives and emotions during a war that seems to have no end in sight.

“I am honored to be this year’s recipient of the Leonian Finalist Award, which will open new possibilities for the continuation of my photographic work in Ukraine 2024,” said Ritter. “I am humbled by the judges’ appreciation of my work and the financial support that comes with it.”

Eugene Smith Student Grant

Oyewole Lawal (Nigeria), a student at Nlele Institute in Lagos, received the $3,000 Eugene Smith Student Grant for “Guardians of Gaia: The Unseen Eco-Warriors,” a visual documentary project spotlighting the unsung scavenger heroes of waste recycling in the city of Lagos, Nigeria. Lawal will focus on one specific landfill, the Olusosun Landfill in Lagos, the largest in Africa, which includes more than 40 acres of land and at least 10,000 tons of waste each day. More than 12,000 scavengers live and work there, with many of them migrating from northern Nigeria and the neighboring countries of Niger and Chad.

“I am deeply honored and grateful for being selected as the recipient of the prestigious Eugene Smith Student Grant. It is more than just a financial blessing; it is a powerful catalyst propelling me forward in my project journey,” Lawal said. “This is a push for my aspirations, and it serves as a resounding affirmation that relentless determination and unwavering commitment pave the way for significant triumphs. Hopefully, it will bring beauty to our planet and inspire positive change.”

The judges also presented Aliona Kardash, a masters student at the University of Applied Sciences and Arts Dortmund, with an Honorable Mention for “It Smells of Smoke at Home,” a photographer’s perspective on the war in Ukraine after leaving her native Russia in 2019 and returning to visit her parents in December 2022.

“I’m very grateful to have received an honorable mention in the Eugene Smith Student Grant and I’m very excited to be among many photographers I truly admire,” Kardash said. “As a photographer, I have always seen my background as a source of inspiration and stories. The war in Ukraine changed my perception of my homeland and of myself a lot. Nevertheless,” she continued, “I’ve chosen a very personal approach of looking at the war and believe that the best I can do is to maintain a dialogue. Thanks to the Eugene Smith Student Grant for giving me the strength to keep going, no matter how long and difficult the journey may be.”

The W. Eugene Smith Memorial Fund, Inc. is a non-profit corporation qualified as tax-exempt under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code and is supported by generous contributions from the Phillip and Edith Leonian Foundation, Earth Vision Institute, and the John and Anne Duffy Foundation. Additional support is provided by the International Center of Photography, and Synergy Communications.